Climate Corner: Diversity is the spice of life

Dec 3, 2022

Vic Elam

OK, so I took a little liberty with this common axiom, but I will make the case. It has been repeatedly shown that an environment that maintains its native diversity is healthier than an environment that has lost its diversity. In terms of environmental diversity, I refer to plant/animal/soil and so on health, and what some refer to as species richness.

Modern corporate forestry practices that clear cut and replace with a monoculture of seedlings that grow into forests that support little flora and animal diversity, are prone to disease, often deplete soils, result in greater erosion, can influence local climatic conditions, resulting in frequent and ferocious wildfire, and also sequester less carbon than healthy diverse forest. There is a reason that when you walk through a normal forest you find yourself immersed in a variety of trees, those trees established where they are due to small variations in soil, moisture, sunlight, presence of other trees, etc., and this variety of trees support each other. Exceptions such as aspen groves are still a product of the forest conditions that are influenced by the forest as a whole.

Grasslands, like forests remain healthy and productive with the full complement of a diverse array of plants. Forested areas that have been cleared and converted to grassland are devoid of the seed bank that provides the basis of a healthy grassland and are generally less productive or require fertilizer to boost productivity and are vulnerable to invasion by invasive plants. Unfortunately, some farmers feel that their pastures are not in good condition unless they can look across a solid stand of grass that is uninterrupted by milkweed, leadplant, coneflower, butterflyweed, and many other plants that are beneficial to the soil and work in concert with grasses to provide healthy pastures. Farmers often apply a broadleaf herbicide to their pastures that eliminates all broad leaf plants and leaves only grasses, greatly reducing valuable diversity.

It takes a diversity of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, birds, even bats to do the necessary work of completing the reproductive process required for many plants. Many animals have a role to play in spreading seeds and passing seeds in a process required to allow those seeds to be viable (scarifying). There are many processes in nature that require the interrelationships between plants, between animals, and between plants and animals that are pivotal in their continued existence – symbiotic relationships. When we lose diversity, those relationships are severed, and we lose the health of our ecosystems.

The health of our climate and diversity are inexorably linked. Even the casual observer can see the impact that climate change is having on diversity. A close observation reveals alarming declines in diversity, part of which is associated with the spread of invasive plants and animals, some is due to climatic conditions becoming unfavorable for certain species, and many other factors.

Certainly, the effects of climate change have a direct and obvious impact to human populations from weather events such as drought. I would argue that self-imposed impacts to humans linked to diversity and its impact on the ecosystems on which we rely to provide us food, oxygen, clean water, and shelter may be as critical as any weather phenomenon that we are or will experience. I think that we will find that anything that we can do to reduce our impact and stave off the worst impacts of climate change are worthy endeavors. Each of us can play a part and collectively make a world of difference.


Vic Elam is an avid outdoorsman and contributor to organizations that share his concern for our environment, including Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.